Best Z490 Motherboards in 2021

Match up your 10th gen Intel processor with one of the best boards currently out there

As well as the recent CPU and chipset launches that have been going on from AMD and the usual levels of hysteria they cause, it’s almost been possible to forget that Intel has launched their 10th Gen processors and that they are too a big deal.

Moving to the new LGA 1200 socket means that anybody interested in this later silicon iteration is going to need a new motherboard. Simply trying to cram a 10th gen into a 9th gen motherboards is going to be a costly mistake.

That means upgrading to Intel’s latest and greatest is a sizeable upgrade on tech and simultaneous downgrade on the amount of money in your wallet, as you will also need to pick up a new mobo with the LGA 1200 socket on board at the same time.

Fortunately some great models are already hitting the streets and these come in a range of specs and models to suit most build budgets.

Of course, when you add the 10th gen chip to the basket at the same time, not much is going to feel ‘budget’ about what you are buying, but you should be safe in the knowledge that your purchase will last you a good few years before you need to hit the upgrade trail once more.

So here our initial thoughts on five of the best Z490 motherboards out there for your new 10th gen Intel CPU. More boards are arriving all the time as this is very much a new line, so this page could end up being updated frequently as we get more and more surprises, but right now, any of the five we have picked here will set you firmly off on your 10th gen adventure.

Let’s go

There are already a large number of Z490 motherboards out in the wild and as they are all new it’s difficult for people to know where to even begin,. Thankfully, here we are to save the day.

We have chosen a range of boards from manufacturers spanning all price ranges and specifications. At their heart, they are fundamentally the same but it is the smaller factors that make each one unique to an individual need.

Each Z490 motherboard we looked at was ranked in terms of feature-set, storage options, ports, and cooling around things like the MOSFETs, As we say, in many ways, they are similar with the additional features being what causes the price differences in the various brands’ flagship models.

Our Recommended

Best Z490 Motherboards in 2021

Editor's Choice
PROS

Great storage options

Contemporary, functional design

Heatsinks and smart fans keep things chilled

CONS

‘Limited’ to 128GB RAM

If you are planning a build that is going to need some serious cooling the Godlike has you covered. Literally. It goes about this by covering large sections of the PCB with patented FROZR heatsinks, in many places covering the full width of the board, and we have to admit it looks quite cool.

I am a tech geek when it comes to PCBs and will admit to liking how components look when laid out on the board, but these big brushed metallic sheets not only serve their purpose but manage to give the Godlike a very contemporary look as well.

This board has a limit of 128GB of RAM which, let’s face it is still massive, massive overkill for 99.9% of users. 5,000Mhz clock speeds add to the general speediness of what you get here.

Where this really stands out is when it comes to storage options. For starters, you get a relatively standard pair of M.2 slots offering 32GB bandwidth per second. The bonus though comes on the included smart fan that is used to cool the heatsinks which come with an extra two slots meaning you could, as long as you have the storage, use four different M.2 drives. Very cool.

Wifi 6 is built-in alongside two Thunderbolt 3 ports which will future-proof you for a good while yet. To top it off there are 2.5Gbps Lan and 10Gbps Super Lan ports as well as ports to plug in the included wifi antenna.

The RGB lighting isn’t over the top and the MSi dragon is nicely and tastefully illuminated along with some other accents around the place.

Editor's Choice
PROS

Superb cooling

hree M.2 slots

Good connectivity

Support for 256GB RAM

CONS

Personally speaking, I’ve long been a fan of Gigabyte motherboards. Most of my builds over the years have flitted between them and MSi and yet again Gigabyte is delivering the goods in this latest round of technology.

The Aorus Xtreme is another mighty-fine looking board with large heatsinks – although not as dominant as on the MSi Godlike. The cooling fins and backplate here are all coated in NanoCarbon to improve the movement of heat even more and this is necessary as this board is packing a lot of power. In fact it’s 16 power stages can each put out 90 amps meaning this is a board to go to if you are planning on running lots of beefy components and have a  decent PSU to supply the juice in the first place.

Three PCIe slots all fitted to the latest PCIe 4.0 standard – something you will struggle to take advantage of with Intel right now but great for looking forward.

The board also carries three M.2 slots enabled a good supply line to your storage and unlike the Godlike, the four DIMM slots here can take up to 256GB of RAM, which if you feel you are most probably wasting money as you really wouldn’t ever need that unless in extreme (sorry Xtreme) situations.

Good rear connectivity finishes it off along with Wifi 6.0 support. Four USB 3.0 and two Thunderbolt ports will keep you happy with what you need to plug in. Yet again Gigabyte continue to make great mobos that are worth every cent.

Great value
PROS

Affordable for most budgets

Great cooling

Similar styling to much more expensive boards

CONS

Throttled performance compared to high-end boards

Okay, so not everybody can justify spending multiple hundreds of dollars on a motherboard. While it is definitely not a part you should cheap out it is often one of the first areas to get cut when you are getting parts of a new build together.

That doesn’t mean, certainly with the new Z490 standard, that if you spend less money you are going to get a box full of rubbish,. Not at all. This offering from MSi is obviously a couple of steps down from the Godlike but also, it is pretty much half the price.

Design-wise, it is actually quite similar top the Godlike with dominating heatsinks cooled by MSI’s FROZR technology so where have the cuts come in to get the price lower.

Well, three M.2 slots here rather than the four on the Godlike – we are sure you will agree that is more than enough for most people.

You can still fit a max of 128GB of RAM in but it does operate at 200Mhz slower at 4,800 but are you really going to notice the difference in the majority of real-world scenarios. Put away your benchmarks for a minute and think of your bank balance.Three PCIe slots, five USB 3.2 ports, and a couple of USB 2.0 but no Thunderbolt – again, it’s nice to have – but half the price…

If you are the kind of person that absolutely must have the top specs of everything, you will turn your nose up at this and that’s a real shame as it offers not much less in the performance department at much less in the price department. It’s probably the most sensible buy out of all the motherboards on show here.

PROS

Popular board loved by many

Good cooling

Affordable

CONS

Only basic updates from Z390

Perhaps more expensive than it needs to be

The Gaming Carbon from MSi is a popular model and the Z390 did well for them in terms of sales and there is no reason to believe this latest version will not be as popular.

In truth, it is pretty similar to the Z390, apart from obvious things like the socket. The price has gone up $60 though which seems a little unnecessary all things considered but you are still getting a very decent motherboard for your money here.

Two M.2 slots are available and placed identically to the last iteration of the board but one other noticeable difference is the repositioning of the RGB on the lower half of the PCB.

Other than that it is a basic update to a popular existing board with the only real changes being to bring it in line with the Z490 spec. A case of why fix what isn’t broken, but it would have been nice to see just a few more nods towards a bigger redesign.

PROS

Great audio

Good cooling performance

Good connectivity

Superb overclocking

CONS

Now we reach our fifth and final board of this roundup and we could have looked at many more but there seems little point in bombarding you with 30 similar boards. We will doubtless revisit this list as time goes by but for now, we are going to finish with the Maximum XII Apex from ASUS ROG.

We wanted to include this option as it is one that the serious overclockers will be most interested in. Similar in design to the Extreme in the same range this Apex version comes with everything overclockers might ever need in its overclocking toolkit which has a condensation sensor built-in that will throttle back the CPU the second it descents moisture building up.

A large VRM heatsink dominates the look of the board and there are additional heatsinks covering the M.2 slots for extra colling capability.

On the back panel, there are five USB 3.2 Gen 2 (of which one is a USB Type C) and five USB 3.2 Gen 1 ports, along with the now-standard 2.G ethernet and Intel Wifi 6.

There is a Thunderbolt header elsewhere on the board to for additional options.

Sound-wise the Apex utilizes DTS Sound Unbound which will give you great audio in games and is a welcome addition here.

Supporting 128GB Ram across two DIMM slots means it is more “limited” than some of the other boards here, but as we have pointed out, it is unlikely you need that much, never mind 256GB.

Three M.2 slots are here for storage too meaning you can’t really go wrong with the options for a build that the Apex gives you.

Things To Consider

I’ve got my board, what else do I need?

Well, as we have said you need a new 10th Gen CPU to put in it, but if you have a decent cooler hanging around the place from the last generation you can at least upcycle that and press it into action once more.

Some of these chips run hot though so make sure your cooling is on point throughout your case especially if you can get extra cooling near the VRM.

What’s new in the Z490 boards?

Z490 boards are an incremental upgrade to support Intel’s new socket design the LGA 1200. Its main advantages over its aging sibling is faster memory support, optional 2.5GB ethernet, and wireless Wifi 6 standard protocol.

The new socket is the big deal here as it means to get close to the 10th gen chips you need a new mobo too. The package of the actual chips themselves is the same meaning that existing coolers will fit just fine, but just don’t try and ram a 10th gen CPU into a 9th gen socket and vice versa.

Besides that, the chipsets are remarkably similar between Z390 and Z490 but it’s the access to the new socket that is going to cost you.

Our Verdict

Editor's Choice

Make no mistake these are all great boards and it will come down almost entirely down to your budget. We believe you can spend perhaps more than you need to, when you consider than you also have to buy a new CPU making this a not unsubstantial upgrade.

You can trim some of the cost off your build by ruling out things such as extra memory slots and heading for the boards that are aimed more at gamers.

If you want to overclock the living daylights out of your new Comet Lake though have a look at the Apex.

We like all these boards here, which is why we chose them from the large list of what’s available but if push comes to shove, Godlike is the one we would go for in the end if money was no object.

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PC guide
Been around consoles and computers since his parents bought him a Mattel Intellivision. Spent over a decade as editor of popular print-based video games and computer magazines, including a market-leading PlayStation title. Has written tech content for GamePro, Official Australian Playstation Magazine, PlayStation Pro, Amiga Action, Mega Action, ST Action, GQ, Loaded, and the Daily Mirror. Twitter: @iampaulmcnally

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